Roy Gilbert

Leading Change Is A Ground Game: How To Drive Innovation Toward The End Zone

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I was talking with a leader who was defining and implementing a strategic change for her organization. She was overwhelmed, under-resourced and getting more than enough oversight from her pressured seniors. The project plan was massive, and the forward movement was glacial.

I listened, and then, of all things, a football metaphor came out of my mouth.

“Leading change is a ground game.”

My colleague’s eyes lit up. The metaphor spoke to her (probably because her favorite team had just won a game after a losing streak). She could see at that moment what it’s going to take to make her change initiative succeed: She needs to replenish her own energy reserves, celebrate the small gains and prioritize anew each day — one drive at a time.

While a passing game is thrilling, the 45-yard completion with an end-zone happy dance doesn’t always happen for change leaders. Yes, there are many examples of rapid, disruptive change (i.e., e-commerce, internet of things, the sharing economy, etc.), but there’s always a behind-the-scenes ground game that accompanies innovation. Leaders must summon grit and persistence to shift focus and energy. Workforces must be upsized, downsized and reshaped to adapt to new imperatives.

Just as the team captain must rally the team out of self-defeat, change leaders must paint a compelling picture of the future so that people want to be part of it. But that’s not enough.

People also must find their way through a pile-up of emotions as they try to transition. David Rock and Linda J. Page, […]

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